History of the Second World War, Volume 5

By June 4 the weather was so bad that the invasion had to be delayed for one day. On the 5th though conditions were still terrible, there was some slight hope of improvement. Appalled by the chaos which would ensue if there were more delay Eisenhower decided that the risk must betaken: D-Day would be June 6 THE WAITING Sunrise at two minutes to six on the morning of June 51944 was an arbitrary statement rather than a visible fact marking the pro­gress from dark stormy tonight grey blustery day. The Channel heaved in a chaos of cruel pinnacles flecked white upon steel grey, and waves rose steeply to test the seamanship and try the stomachs of all those afloat in little ships. Clouds fled in tormented tattered shrouds over a cold sky. A gusty westerly veering WSW to WNW at Force 5 whipped the spume into the faces of look-outs and helmsmen as scores of small craft reared and bucked towards their meeting place. By sunrise 5000 ships of half-a-hundred shapes and sizes had begun to move from their anchorages and the wakes of many con­voys already patterned the coastal waters of Britain from Fowey to the Nore. It was four years almost to the day since the remnants of an army had struggled back from Dunkirk and the coastal waters of England had known any comparable activity. Admiral Ramsay had commanded then and he commanded now on this morning. This fifth day of June is not one of those landmarks in history to be covered by easy generalisation. It was many things to many men. 287000 men and a host of armoured fighting vehicles had been preloaded into ships some of them since the first day of the month some of them had been already shuttled and shunted blind to sea and sky daylight or darkness sick weary wondering aware that a moment would come when they would be spewed up like Jonahs upon an alien shore bristling with devices of death and beaten with shot and shell. The many thousands on deck however sick and cold could count themselves fortunate that they were not of the many thousands below huddled in the great caverns of the LCTs (Landing Crafts, Tank) in the cramped quarters of the LSIs (Landing Ships Infantry), in the dull yellow electric glow and the stench of vomit. While thousands waited in a grey limbo thousands worked man­ning the little ships and the great ships of war alert in hundreds of gun turrets crouched astride swivel seats behind a great array of weapons pointing to the sky cloud ceiling 4000 feet and above that the sustained roar of 10000 aircraft. Hundreds more wrestled with towing gear and hawsers tugs grappling and towing strange ungainly shapes out of the estuaries in the wake of the Armada massing south of the Isle of Wight. Towards evening there was a break in the weather and in that brief hour a soldier wrote: 'It was a perfect summers evening the Isle of Wight lay green and friendly and tantalisingly peaceful behind the tapestry of warships. And in the dusk when the convoys began to move towards their date with destiny men were answering cheer with cheer across the water the pennants flew from the ships of war and a British Admiral threw his cap in the air. Yet what a travesty of the truth this is to the thousands who seemed to inhabit a grey ante-chamber to a morgue dull sickness upon them to eke out the miseries of the long blind ordeal of waiting. Force U2a part of Force U for Utah had had the worst of it. 128 tank landing craft crowded with men and armour sailed out of the west through the hours of indecision easted down Channel, turned about plunged back into the teeth of the westerly to seek shelter in Weymouth Bay and in the lee of Portsmouth easted again down Channel at last in the dusk of June 5 to set course for France. Force O for Omaha had had also along haul from the south-west, a turn and turn-about an agonising outdrawing of the hours of confinement. Already men on deck had kept watch upwards of 50 hours and perhaps 50 more lay ahead before sleep. For these no cheers no happy vision of the Isle of Wight for their 'green and pleasant land lay beyond the Atlantic. Through the hours of darkness the immense convoys moved steadily unmolested on their courses in the buoyed channels cleared by the mine-sweeping flotillas a wedge more than 50 miles wide, and with scores of small fighting ships ranging far out on the flanks probing for the enemy. There was nothing. The long lines of ships seemed to unwind on fabulous spools drawing their component threads from a hundred havens of the English coast to weave them into thick skeins to the Bay of Seine. The fierce turbulence of wind and sea failed to mask the strange 'unnatural silence of the night. The sustained thunder of the fleets of bombers overhead quenched for those below by the drenching sounds of sea and the shuddering stresses of steel plates seemed to accentuate the absence of the enemy. It seemed impossible that such an avalanche of ships and men could muster through the months at last to fill the English Channel from shore to shore and remain undetected. Surely no instrument more 'scientific than the human ear would be needed to hear so avast throb of power! No signs of detection Before the sun had seton the evening of the 5th two flotillas of mine-sweepers stood off the coast of Normandy well within sight, and easily able to distinguish houses onshore with the naked eye. The midget submarines of Lieutenant Honours command were at their stations close inshore marking the eastern flank and the dangerous rocks. There were no signs of detection. From 0200 hours on the 6th the HQ ships of the assault moved into their transport areas and prepared to put their assault craft into the water. The only interference came from the unfriendly sea and the weather was not alone to thank or blame for this. The sustained attacks from the air on the elaborate Early Warning System of the enemy had succeeded almost too well. In the entire Neptune Area from Cap dAntifer to Barfleur 74 radar stations were out of action and the 18 still capable of working were silent. But it was not enough simply to blind the enemy it was important also to mislead. For this purpose ten stations were deliberately left in working order north of the Seine and onto these screens the Royal Navy contrived to produce a misleading web of shapes and echoes. It seems extravagant that such a claim is made for it re­veals a predominance over the enemy that reduces his forces to a stricken body lacerated on all sides unable to fly or float but capable of inflicting grievous even crippling wounds upon those seeking to deliver the coup de grace. But there was no inclination on the part of the Allies to under­estimate the powers of the German army in the west. Thus all through June 5 and the night 105 aircraft of the RAF and 34 little ships of the Royal Navy contrived by means of weaving patterns over the sky and sea and flying barrage balloons to produce the 'echoes in the enemy radar ears of a substantial fleet approaching the Pas de Calais. At the same time jamming operations and diver­sions were carried on against Cap dAntifer and Barfleur. The silent approach of the great armada to outspread in a fan from 8 to 12 miles offshore enclosing the Bay of Seine is the measure of success. Soon after 9 oclock the unusual length and content of the BBC broadcast warning to the French Resistance alarmed the Germans, and the XV Army in the Pas de Calais was alerted while the VII Army in Normandy remained undisturbed. Nothing it seemed, could prise von Rundstedts mind away from its preconceived fixa­tions even the deadly facts of the elements of three airborne divi­sions dropping in the midst of his forces. Well before the first assault craft of the seaborne forces were in the water the battle landon was joined. AIRDROP IN THE WEST: 'CHAOS WILL REIGN Within half-an-hour of sunset on the night of June 5 while the leading ships of the seaborne assault moved into the buoyed chan­nels to steer for France the Pathfinders of the United States and British air forces took off from their English fields to light their beacons in the fields of Normandy. Soon after midnight these small vanguards of elite troops were moving silently in the midst of the enemy the British to mark the dropping zones for the 6th Air­borne Division to the north-east of Caen on the eastern flank the Americans astride the Merderet river and the road Carentan- Montebourg-Cherbourg in the area of Ste Mere-Eglise. Behind them more than 1200 aircraft bore nearly 20000 men into battle 1796
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